Local abortion clinic files new lawsuit over closure

A local abortion clinic has filed a second lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health over the agency’s licensing practices.

The Lebanon Road Surgery Center of Sharonville, which the state has ordered to shutdown, filed the second lawsuit Tuesday in Hamilton County asking a judge to order the Ohio Department of Health to approve its license.

Attorneys for the clinic argue in the court filing that the state’s cancellation of a license for the abortion clinic aren’t based on any valid concerns about “sub optimal medical care” but, instead, are “politically motivated.”

The attorney representing the Sharonville abortion clinic said Wednesday she has proof state officials were pressured over the Sharonville abortion clinic’s license.

“We have evidence of communications with the governor’s office and anti-abortion opponents about this license,” Dorothea Langsam, the attorney representing the clinic, said.

Langsam said the new suit also takes issue with the health department’s process for appealing and reviewing decisions made by the state health director.

Health department officials declined to comment for this story, citing pending litigation.

Attorneys representing the clinic say they plan to consolidate this new legal action with a court case over the same matter, which is scheduled for oral argument Friday.

Hamilton County Court Judge Jerome Metz Jr. could rule Friday on whether he agrees with the state’s decision to shut down the clinic; he’s the same judge, however, that issued a stay for the clinic to continue operations while it appeals the state’s order through the court system. A Hamilton County magistrate in June sided with the state and ruled the clinic should close.

State health department and abortion clinic owners have been fighting the state-order closure since January, when the former health director revoked the clinic’s license because it doesn’t have a written patient transfer agreement with a local hospital.

All outpatient surgery centers are required to have a written agreement with local hospitals. Last summer, a new law banned taxpayer-funded hospitals from entering into such agreements with abortion clinics.

Clinics can apply for a variance to the required agreement if they have a back-up system in place. The Sharonville abortion clinic had done that — by utilizing doctors who had admitting privileges at local hospitals for procedures — but in 2012 the health department director gave notice he wouldn’t renew the clinic’s license over the issue.

Women’s Med Center in Dayton — owned by the same doctor who operates the Sharonville clinic — and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio in Cincinnati have both been awaiting a ruling for nearly 12 months from the health department on their variance requests pertaining to transfer agreements.

Those three clinics are the only ones that remain open in the Cincinnati-Dayton region.

Holding abortion clinics’ licenses politically hostage will be a point made in lawsuits or appeal arguments made by some of Ohio’s 11 remaining abortion clinics that are fighting to stay open, Kellie Copeland, the executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said.

“There’s evidence that abortion clinics, in general, have been under extra scrutiny. We’ve seen a pattern,” Copeland said.

This newspaper's exclusive investigation found abortion clinics have been cited, inspected and shut down in recent years more frequently under Gov. John Kasich's administration. Another investigation revealed employees were stringently disciplined for mistakenly licensing the Sharonville clinic last year and the health department created a "watch list" for certain outpatient clinics, including the Sharonville one, to get a closer look.

Pro-life advocates accused the abortion clinic owners Wednesday of violating state law. The Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati plans to mobilize a group outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse during Friday’s court proceedings involving the Sharonville clinic.

“This abortion provider will stop at nothing to skirt the law,” Paula Westwood, the executive director of the Right to Life chapter, said in a statement.